It was around nine o’clock in the evening on December 31, 1918, when Ilia Tretiak (also spelled Ilko and Elka) heard a knock at the door. He and his family lived in a little farmhouse six miles northeast of Rama in the Canora district. The family had already gotten ready for bed and everyone was dressed in their nightclothes as he went to answer the door.
John Wowk had been staying with the family for some time, but had recently gotten into a fight with Ilia, after he’d started paying too much attention to his daughter. The daughter in question was somewhere between fourteen and sixteen years old, and Wowk, with a wife and family back in the Old Country, was far too old to be paying those kinds of attentions to a child.
When Ilia opened the door, Wowk was waiting on the other side, shotgun in hand. He fired immediately, shooting Ilia in the head and killing him instantly. Ilia’s wife, Julia, ran but Wowk shot at her as well, catching her from behind. Wowk then took hold of the daughter and dragged her out into the night with him.
But Julia was not dead. In fact, she managed to get herself onto her feet and ran to the neighbour’s. She didn’t have any shoes on, no coat, instead running through the snow in her nightclothes and bare feet, getting severe frostbite in the process.
Meanwhile, John Wowk had the young girl at his mercy. (She was never named in any of the articles.) Like her mother, she was in only her nightclothes and bare feet as he made her walk about a mile away in the freezing cold and snow to an abandoned barn. One they arrived he assaulted her, finally releasing her at about three o’clock in the morning to run, traumatized and injured, to the nearest neighbour’s. She also received severe frostbite on her feet.
The neighbours, of course, notified the police and both mother and daughter were taken to the hospital in Canora. When Wowk had fired the shot gun at Julia Tretiak it had been at her head, but the wounds, though serious, were thankfully only superficial. The Tretiaks had three other children, but luckily none of them were injured during the encounter.
Corporal Marshall and Constable Penner of the Canora district didn’t take long to capture Wowk. They found him seven miles away, hiding in the cellar of a friend’s house. He was taken to Regina jail on January 2, 1919 to await his preliminary hearing and trial. He was described at the time as seeming dazed and stupid, and at times would burst out in fits of crying before suddenly stopping and moaning.
While in the Regina jail, he confessed to officers about murdering Ilia Tretiak, attempting to murder his wife and kidnapping and raping their daughter. Not that the confession was required, they had all the eye witness testimony they needed. There was certainly no question of his guilt.
His preliminary hearing was held on January 9, 1919. He was committed to stand trial, and on April 16, 1919, he was found guilty and sentenced to hang on July 17, 1919 by Judge Bigelow at Yorkton.
There were not a lot of details written about the trial, it seems because reporters found his actions so heinous they didn’t want to repeat any of the details. Surprising no one, he was not granted a reprieve and on the morning of July 17, 1919, he was hung at Regina jail. He was buried in potter’s field at the Regina cemetery.
And that is the story of the murderer and rapist, John Wowk.
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Information for this post came from the following editions of the Regina Leader-Post, Saskatoon Daily Star and Saskatoon Star-Phoenix: Jan 2, 1919, Jan 3, 1919, Jan 4, 1919, Jan 6, 1919, Jan 8, 1919, April 8, 1919, April 17, 1919, July 10, 1919, July 15, 1919, July 17, 1919, July 18, 1919
If you’d like to read more historical true crime from Saskatchewan, give these a try:
The Attempted Murders of C. D. Bennison and Leonard Warren
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